Three Benefits of Scientific Collaboration

Oct 14, 2013

Woods Hole Village with Institutional Buildings
Woods Hole Village with Institutional Buildings
Credit Steve Junker

Two heads are better than one. Many scientific breakthroughs come when scientists from different fields or different sectors team up to tackle a single problem.

Collaborative research is a pillar of the Marine Biological Laboratory, and a near necessity for ocean researchers like those at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Here's what the presidents of those organizations list as some of the top benefits of collaboration:

  1. It's fun. Contrary to popular belief, most scientists are not anti-social misfits. Conversations with colleagues of varying backgrounds and expertise are mentally stimulating and just plain fun. And, as anyone at Google can attest, happy workers are productive workers.
  2. Nobody knows everything. Scientists have a deep and detailed knowledge of their field of expertise. Big problems, like climate change, though, are far too broad for any one person to be an expert in all its facets. Collaborations allow complex problems to be addressed in a comprehensive way.
  3. Money, money, money. Collaborations between government agencies, academic scientists, and private sector corporations enable some of the nation's brightest minds to work on pressing societal issues and contribute to economic growth.

One possible benefit currently being tested is whether collaborative research may prove more resilient than its traditional counterpart in the face of the sequester, and now a partial government shutdown. Collaborative projects often draw funding from multiple sources, so may not be as strongly impacted by government cuts. On the other hand, collaborations involving government scientists could be crippled by extended loss of contact with those researchers.